NCAA Softball: BYU confident as opening game draws near
No doubt, the BYU women's softball team is playing its best at the right time.
The Cougars sweep through the Western Athletic Conference to earn the right to open against Mississippi State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, their eighth consecutive appearance, in the Eugene Regional.
In fact, BYU (43-13), which has won 19 of its last 20 games, is on such a good roll that coach Gordon Eakin could joke about winning the conference championship in his team's only season in the WAC. Next season, the Cougars will play in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, their third conference in as many years.
"We're playing league by league until we win them all," he said.
As for the more important things, including Thursday's 4 p.m. (MT) game, "We're playing good right now. I still think there's more to come."
The double-elimination regional also includes host and the tournament's 11th seed Oregon (39-15) and Portland State (27-23) at 7 p.m. The winners meet Friday at noon, while the losers play Friday at 3 p.m. BYU has already defeated both teams this season.
Mississippi State (33-22), a fourth-place finisher in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference, features a balanced offense and solid pitching. Projected starter Stephanie Becker is 18-10.
The Cougars counter with the WAC Player of the Year in Delancy Willard, who set a conference record with 88 RBIs.
BYU also brings strong pitching in Hannah Howell (20-7) and Tori Almond (18-3). Howell will start the opener.
"I feel good about that," Howell said. "Everybody is confident. We feel like we've been put into a good situation. Everything's pretty exciting right now."
There is optimism in the Cougars' camp that they can qualify for the Super Regional for the second time in Eakin's 10 years at BYU. The first time was 2010. This is in direct contract to how the softball season began, when Eakin was concerned about his team's inexperience and youth.
"I don't know if anyone sees us as a threat," he said. "We leave a lot of people saying, 'How do they keep doing this.' It's been a fun ride."
BYU has won 19 of its last 20 games, including a sweep of the WAC Tournament and 11th ranked Hawaii.
BYU's senior outfielder and WAC Player of the Year Delancy Willard has driven in 88 runs, second in the nation.
This is the Cougars' eight-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Super Regionals in 2010. The Salt Lake Community College softball team is the No. 2 seed heading into Thursday's NJCAA National Tournament in St. George. The Bruins (52-7), champions of Region 18, have won 22 consecutive games. For more about SLCC, go to http://www.sltrib.com.